The town of Visby is located on the Swedish island of Gotland. When the Gospel came to the region nearly a thousand years ago, it became a focal point for Christian missions in the countries situated by the Baltic sea.
Majors Kjell and Ann-Christine Karlsten (pictured, right) have been working as officers in Visby since they reopened the corps in 1994 and believe that God is calling people and encouraging them to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers in order to reevangelize Europe. From the start prayer has been key and every progress has come as a result of it.
The Karlstens have found in the words of Jeremiah 33:4-12 God's promise of restoration and have held on to it as a description of God's calling and plan to re-establish Gotland to what it was originally intended to be.
Surrounded by beautiful scenery, Visby is characterised by its many churches and monastery ruins which give an impression that in its peak the town was distinguished by prayer, intercession and worship. The words from Isaiah 61:4 ressonate with The Salvation Army's mission there:
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations
'Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honour before all nations on earth...' (Jeremiah 33:9). The area was also originally built and inhabited by people from different lands and known as a trading centre and a meeting place for those with different nationalities. 'These two thoughts: the prayer aspect and the international perspective - were summed up by Jesus when he quoted the prophet Isaiah 56:7: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:17),' says Kjell.
A vision to rebuild an altar of prayer
Living in one of the most secular areas of the world, Kjell and Ann-Christine know that this can only be changed through prayer, combined with hard work in the strength of the Holy Spirit. They believe that God wants them to complement the mission base with a prayer centre: a place where prayer is continuous. Such prayer centres already exist in many places around the world but they recognize that God is calling them not just to pray for Visby and Gotland, but that the call involves a wider prayer commission.
The specific vision of a House of Prayer was presented to the corps in Visby two years ago. ‘We have decided to let it grow slowly, depending on the Spirit of God to plant the vision in people's hearts, anxious that it not become another "duty" that people try to press into their already busy schedule, and then tick off. It must be God's Spirit who calls people, giving them a longing and a heart for persistent prayer and an understanding for the power and influence of prayer', explains Kjell.
Service in prayer
The first 'prayer missionary' arrived at the start of this year. A former S2S student (Saved2Save Training School located in Visby) and young Salvationist from Ukraine has started working as a volunteer spending approximately 50% of her time in prayer and planning out the vision for the House of Prayer.
The next step is that people in the corps will take up responsibility for weekly prayer times according to their specific individual passions. Some members have a longing to see people receive inner healing, others love to work with children or are focused on the social needs of the town. The Karlsten's desire is that for the future the House of Prayer will have a wider effect on Sweden and Europe.